Joseph Mallord William Turner

Milan: The Skyline at Dawn, with the Campanile of San Giovanni in Conca, the Church of Sant’Alessandro in Zebedia and the Basilica of San Lorenzo, from the Albergo dei Tre Re


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Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXXI 3

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Turner was fond of making views of the rooftops of the cities he saw on his travels. This study of buildings in an unidentified North Italian town was made in 1819 while travelling between Como and Venice. The generalised foreground suggests perhaps a balcony or parapet in shadow. Beyond this Turner has made a careful study of the domes of a Baroque church and an earlier campanile. The drawing shows his highly developed interest in architecture.

Gallery label, September 2004

Catalogue entry

Falling in terms of its original foliation between watercolour views of Lake Como (D15251–D15252; Turner Bequest CLXXXI 1, 2) and Venice (beginning with D15254; CLXXXI 4), the subject of the ‘extraordinary view’, as Andrew Wilton characterised it,1 long eluded accurate identification. Finberg subsequently and uncharacteristically somewhat wildly annotated his 1909 Inventory entry (‘Sunset on dome and towers’): ‘Florence. The Cathedral’;2 for an actual view of the city, see D15259 (CLXXXI 8). The Turner scholar C.F. Bell annotated another copy, amending Finberg’s ‘Sunset’ by crossing out the second syllable and inserting ‘rise’, adding: ‘(Brescia?) more likely sunset’.3 Brescia was also on Turner’s 1819 route; see the Milan to Venice sketchbook (Tate D14352; Turner Bequest CLXXV 19). Wilton noted the town was ‘presumably one in northern Italy, near Como, Milan or Venice’,4 while Gerald Wilkinson suggested it was seen ‘perhaps from a hotel window’.5
In fact, the elevated view is to the west over the southern part of central Milan, with the Baroque dome and flanking campanili of the church of Sant’Alessandro in Zebedia at the centre and the cupola of the basilica of San Lorenzo in the distance to the south-west at the far left; the latter is shown from other angles in the Milan to Venice book (Tate D14339, D14341; Turner Bequest CLXXV 8a, 9a). Partly eclipsing Sant’Alessandro is the campanile of the church of San Giovanni in Conca, of which only the crypt survives, along with part of an apse above ground in the Piazza Giuseppe Missori, not far south of Milan Cathedral.
These identifications are due to Federico Crimi,6 who established the likely viewpoint as an upper storey of the exclusive Albergo dei Tre Re (Three Kings),7 where Turner was likely staying for the short while he was in Milan on this occasion.8 It stood a little east of San Giovanni in an area which has seen much redevelopment; the church had already been deconsecrated and its tower used as a telegraph station from 1805 and a meteorological station from 1808, and Turner has apparently recorded technical equipment on its roof in his pencil work.9 Turner made numerous studies of Milan in pencil alone, focusing particularly on the cathedral, in the smaller Milan to Venice sketchbook; see under Tate D14328 (Turner Bequest CLXXV 2), under which his wider coverage of the city is noted, and Crimi has suggested that D14350 (Turner Bequest CLXXV 18), a hurried and slight drawing, may relate to the present subject.10
Wilton 1979, p.142.
Undated MS note by A.J. Finberg (died 1939) in interleaved copy of Finberg 1909, Tate Britain Prints and Drawings Room, I, p.535.
Undated MS note by C.F. Bell (died 1966) in copy of Finberg 1909, Tate Britain Prints and Drawings Room, I, p.535.
Wilton 1975, p.52.
Wilkinson 1977, p.152.
See Crimi 2007, pp.39–43; see also upublished notes by Ian Warrell, Tate catalogue files, Hamilton 2008, pp. 42, 90 note 12 and 2009, pp. 40, 150 note 12, acknowledging Crimi and Warrell, Warrell 2008, p.67 note 1, and Warrell 2014, p.106.
See Crimi 2007, p.42.
Ibid., pp.39, 42–3.
Ibid., p.41.
Ibid., p.43 note 62.
Ibid., pp.42–3.
See Finberg 1909, I, p.535.
See Crimi 2007, p.40.
See ibid., p.43 note 62.
A.J. Finberg, ‘Turner’s Work’, no date, Tate Britain Prints and Drawings Room, vol.V, laid in at folio 70.

Matthew Imms
March 2017

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